Walking with Jesus, I share these words of scripture and message with you as we enter this season of Epiphany.
Isaiah 60: 1-6 (NRSV)
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,[a]
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
Welcome to Epiphany! These words from Isaiah 60 frame a snapshot of what this season calls us to be as we continue to walk with Jesus! These words paint a magnificent vision of the future – a future full of light, prosperity, and prestige, as well as, a call for us to participate and lead that future.
“Arise, Shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” You have been flooded with divine light. Oh yes, there are still places and situations and people with very little light and these things will still afflict the earth, but the Lord is present, and God’s light will shine out on and through God’s people.
On my trip to the Holy Land I had the extraordinary experience of going to the Jordan River. As our buses approached the traditional baptismal area along the Jordan River what struck me was the starkness of the area around this part of the Jordan. What was even more striking were the signs warning of danger, warnings to stay on the prescribed path due to still hidden buried, unexploded mines.
And there it was, the river Jordan, the river in which Jesus was baptized by John. There were pilgrims – and armed guards, just over on the other side on the banks of the Jordan, armed guards for the other country that borders the river. The activity of baptism and remembering baptisms were taking place on both sides. A place of war and a place of peace. A place of death and a place of new life.
In this place, a sacred space filled with pilgrims seeking the intersection of the human and the divine, seeking remembrance and forgiveness, seeking an experience of God, no one has come or will come with greater burdens or with greater afflictions on his mind than Jesus. His baptism would announce to the world what he already knew: that he was claimed by God. He was God’s son, but a son that was being called to be a suffering servant taking on pain and the world’s sin – a painful, sacrificial calling that was affirmed by God before the action of the cross ever took place as God proclaimed, “with you, I am well pleased.” What a gift God provided through Jesus at the Jordan that day with John.
As I waded in the shallows of the Jordan this past fall helping people remember their Baptisms, I was moved by the remembrance that Jesus commissioned us to go and to baptize, to baptize others with his baptism and in his name. Arise! Shine for your light has come! By the wonder of God’s amazing grace, we are all invited to step into this same bounty and gift of being claimed and affirmed by God. That claim and affirmation are all the power we need in order shine God’s light and make Christ known throughout this world – even when the way is lined with warnings, and buried danger, persons who fear and are feared, or persons who live in and under the threat of violence.
So, Arise! Shine! God’s glory, the abundance of God’s glory has been poured out upon us through the cleansing, life-giving waters of baptism. Yes, there will be struggles, there are struggles and challenges in the Church and in the world. Isaiah 60 reminds us of this too. These struggles will call for sacrifice and will cause pain – but we and the world are not without hope.
Martin Luther in his essay, “The Freedom of a Christian,” reminds us there is deep wisdom in the claim that all the riches of heaven are given to us in Christ, not in order that one might subdue others, but rather that the Christian might empty himself, take on the form of a servant, and “in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him.”1
The divine power we have in Christ is the power to shine for others. It is power for the neighbor. This power to shine forth Christ’s light frees us, not to put down, but to serve, not to destroy but to heal and build up, not to hoard or hide or save resources but to provide them for those less fortunate. To act and walk with Jesus shining God’s light in this way brings not only hope, but the healing and transformation of individuals, communities, and the world.
So, again, arise, shine! For this world needs to be enlightened by the gathering of the ordinary, everyday saints who allow Christ’s light to shine and multiply through their giving, words, actions, sacrifice, and joy-filled life.
1 Martin Luther, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writing (ed. John Dillenberger; Garden City: Doubleday, 1961), 75.